‘Ulaganayagan’ Kamal Haasan is gearing up for the release of Vishwaroopam 2 on August 10th. At 63, the legendary thespian still displays an admirable commitment to promotions and has been doing extensive rounds of interviews and media appearances across the country. He is setting an example for the younger lot of Tamil actors, some of whom shy away from marketing and promoting their films.
Today, a select group of journalists were invited to his residence, which also serves as the head office for his production house (RKFI) and political party (Maiam). Exclusive footage from the film was screened. A video of the emotional mother–son number ‘Naanagiya Nathimulamae’ and short ‘the making of’ video snippets were screened. The underwater sequence featuring Pooja Kumar was particularly arresting, due to its never-seen-before nature. It’s clear that Kamal has called the shots as the film’s director – producer and also slogged during the numerous action sequences.
Soon after this screening, we got the opportunity to speak to the actor himself. Here’s what he said:
Since the 80s, you’ve done numerous action films, performing daring stunts on your own. After all these years, how did you manage to repeat the act for Vishwaroopam 2, which seems like a full-blown action spectacle?
It’s all about training, which is a continuous process. If I go 15 days without any exercise, it will show on my body and give way to injuries when I shoot for action sequences. Like athletes, we actors and stuntmen also have to be constantly on the move and be in the groove. In the olden days, when most of the shooting used to happen outdoors, stunt men used to feel ashamed to put on pads as precautionary measures while fighting. They wouldn’t even make it look obvious while warming up; they used to choose a corner and go about their push-ups in private. That’s how they got ready.
Now we shoot in air-conditioned floors and this makes it harder on the muscles. Colder muscles are vulnerable to injury! That’s why when I was shooting for Uttama Villain in an A/C floor, a simple ‘get-up and run’ movement caused my muscle to tear. This wouldn’t have happened if it were a warm outdoor shooting spot.
Being a mainstream mass hero, taking up a controversial film on Al-Qaeda is quite a breakaway move…
Like all you cinema fans, I was also getting bored of the repetition in our stories – romancing the heroine, getting approval from the father, and the works. And, when filmmakers take up a new genre here, they don’t go all-out. They are forced to make some compromises here and there. In the good-old days, Jaishankar’s cowboy films were an incongruous attempt to blend the Western genre and our typical ‘village film’ elements. Sholay was a properly ‘Indianized’ Western and it felt authentic. Since long, I wanted to do a proper gritty, gory thriller like how they do it internationally. Vishwaroopam is a step in that direction – ‘Indianizing’ a spy film. It was a decision taken more as a fan than a filmmaker.
When exactly did you decide to release Vishwaroopam as a two-part film?
On the very first day! We had a story running to around 4 hours. The page count in the final script draft pointed to a 4 hours+ film. During the script rehearsal and later during the first schedule, we decided that we would do it patiently and not crunch it into a 2.5 hours film. I paid all of them the salary for two films (laughs). There was so much to tell and we were very proud of the research that had gone into the film. It was quite a daring decision to release it as a two-part film; it was a decision of passion. Barrie Osborne similarly had the guts to make The Lord of the Rings as a three-part film, in the hope that the first part would succeed.
A lot of your films – Kurudhipunal, Hey Ram, Aalavandhan, Anbe Sivam, were stamped as ‘ahead of times’ films and didn’t get a good run in theaters. Now when they are shown on TV or seen on home-video, people rave about them as ‘classics’. How do you look at this recurring phenomenon?
It’s a simple thing – one has to prepare the audience and distributors ahead of any film. If it’s a sweet item, it has to be communicated clearly. In the same way, if it’s a spicy item, the communication has to be clear. One shouldn’t leave room for any confusion.
Back then, I tried to make good films without the knowledge of the distributors and the move clearly backfired. They were startled when they saw these films that you mentioned. One can’t escape the rancour of the investors!
If in a wedding hall, the bride isn’t well or is missing, somehow the people in the hall will sense that there’s something wrong. The faces will convey that. That’s what happened during the making of Anbe Sivam when they discouraged me by saying that it’s a film without mass action sequences. The film eventually suffered too! All of them are my friends eventually.
During Mahanadhi, distributors and some close associates felt that we should title the film Porkai Pandian (referring to the final scene in which the hero severs his hand to kill the villain, who is hanging off a building’s ledge) to make it more obvious and impactful for the viewer. In the middle of the film, I was getting such recommendations. I couldn’t explain it back then, now I can.
In the same way with Dasavatharam, my good friend (referring to producer Aascar Ravichandran) wanted to show all my 10 avatars in a pre-release promotional poster. For business purposes and as the rightful investor, he felt that it would make sense to reveal all my avatars. He felt that the poster of just ‘Rangaraja Nambi’ would communicate that it was a film about a suffering Brahmin.
I then took the example of a cabaret dance and likened the film to the dance show. It’s a step by step move towards nudity with the dancer undressing gradually. I said that revealing all my 10 avatars is akin to revealing the completely nude picture in the dance show’s poster itself. Not showing it all is the USP! I think he understood my point that people need to come to the theatre to see all my roles. He didn’t pester me after that.
Some of your older hits like Meendum Kokila, Kaaki Sattai and Vetri Vizha are being re-released in theaters of late. Many of your fans feel that your true-blue classics like Mahanadi, Guna, Thevar Magan deserve to be re-released too. How do you see this?
It’s not in my hands and I’m in no way responsible for those re-releases. Those were films which were done long back. I’ve moved on and grown beyond those kind of films. I myself am embarrassed of some of that work and feel that I can make those films again with a different bunch of actors. But there is an audience which still likes those films (laughs)!